Breast Pumps May Bring Bad Bacteria to Babies

New research suggests babies are picking up harmful bacteria from breast pumps.
Jessica Miley

Breast pumps may introduce bad bacteria to babies a new study has found. Shirin Moossavi at the University of Manitoba, Canada discovered that milk from breast pumps contained higher levels of potentially dangerous microbes than milk taken directly from the breast. 


These potential pathogens may also increase the risk of childhood asthma. 

“Increased exposure to potential pathogens in breast milk could pose a risk of respiratory infection in the infant,” says Moossavi. Researchers aren’t exactly sure how bacteria become established in the baby’s gut. 

Baby's mouth beneficial to bacteria

But it is likely to come from one of three sources, from the breast milk itself, from the transfer of bacteria from the baby’s mouth or the last artificial option from breast pumps. 


To determine their findings the researchers looked for bacterial genes in breast milk samples from 393 healthy mothers three to four months after giving birth. Interestingly the bacterial content of the milk differed greatly from baby to baby. 

The milk fed to a baby via a breast pump contained higher levels of potentially harmful “opportunistic pathogens”, such as those from the genus Stenotrophomonas and family Pseudomonadaceae. 

Direct breastfeeding, on the other hand, had higher levels of of bacteria commonly associated with the mouth as well as more bacteria diversity overall. 

New research into benefist of breastfeeding 

From this data, the researchers could assume that the infant's mouth plays a huge role in determining what kind of bacteria is found in the mother's milk. 

“This study considerably expands our understanding of the human milk microbiota and the factors that might influence it,” says study co-author Meghan Azad at the Children’s Hospital Research Institute of Manitoba.

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“The results will inspire new research about breastfeeding and human milk, especially related to pumping.” 

This is one of a series of recent scientific studies that found linkages between childhood gut health and the onset of other health issues. 

Gut health critical to kids wellness

Recent work from the Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health and the University of New South Wales, Sydney, Australia, found an association between elevated levels of enteroviruses in the intestinal tracts of children and islet autoimmunity, a precursor to Type 1 diabetes. 

The study examined fecal samples from 93 children as part of the Australian Viruses In the Genetically at Risk study (VIGR), a prospective birth cohort of children with at least one first-degree relative with Type 1 diabetes. 

The research found 129 viruses that were more prevalent in the guts of the children with islet autoimmunity versus their matched controls. Among the 129, five enterovirus-A viruses were significantly more abundant. 

"These findings strengthen the model that enteroviruses can spread from the gut into a child's pancreas and trigger autoimmunity in the cells that regulate blood sugar," says Thomas Briese, Ph.D., associate professor of Epidemiology and CII lead on the project. 

"Knowing the virus types involved is a critical step toward developing new strategies for prevention and treatment of Type 1 diabetes."

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